Incident Response Team | Roles & Responsibilities Defined

Myra Nizami

We discuss what an incident response team does, how it is structured, and how to form the best one for your organization.

What is an incident response team?

An incident response team is a group of IT professionals that are responsible for preparing for, responding to, and handling any sort of system outage or downtime. The incident response team is also responsible for leading post-incident analysis and creating plans to avoid similar situations.

The goal of the incident response team is to create a centralized approach to incident response that handles recovering different business functions after an incident. Doing so ensures a comprehensive response to outages, errors, security breaches, and other incidents with appropriate actions as needed. 

The incident response team is responsible for collecting and analyzing information relating to incidents with the product and creating a plan of action on how to respond to it. In addition, the team will discuss the incident, share important information and communication, and other activities depending on the nature of the incident and how serious it is. 

During an active incident, the response team comes together to decide how to fix the issue. They will also determine what needs to be communicated to internal stakeholders and customers. The response team model can also include meetings at regular intervals to discuss developments, progress, and any actions needed. 

The incident response team model

Yourteam model should include members across different functions and business areas for comprehensive coverage, including:

  • Security and threat monitoring members
  • Management
  • Legal teams
  • Audit and risk management
  • PR and marketing
  • Development teams
  • Operation teams

Having members from each business area ensures that incidents have the coverage of required information needed. This will lead to efficient responses and minimize damage. 

Most teams are formed with existing employees who have the necessary expertise and experience. However, if the team identifies the need for other individuals with specific types of expertise, teams can bring in new hires. 

Teams need to consider hiring decisions in the context of their history with incidents. Some considerations include how many incidents are occurring, how severe they are, how they are being handled, and what kind of coverage is needed to ensure as little stress as possible even when an incident occurs. 

How should I structure my incident response team?

Companies handle incident response differently depending on the team and resources available. However, some important roles to consider are:

  • Team leader: Primary responsibility is to bring together and coordinate incident response to ensure it stays focused on solving the problem at hand
  • Investigative lead: Responsible for evidence collection analysis and directs the response
  • Communications specialist: Keeps internal stakeholders and teams up-to-date on progress throughout incident response
  • Analysts: Document and analyze team activities, monitor the networks, create timelines, and do an initial analysis of the evidence and threats.

What skills should an incident response team have?

Having technological skills and capabilities to investigate incidents is, of course, the most crucial skill for response team members. Although not all team members will have this, anyone directly investigating the incident should know how to understand what’s going on and spot anomalies and issues. That knowledge should include relevant tools and architectures, knowledge of your organization’s codebase, and malicious code analysis. Intrusion detection and vulnerability management are also crucial in this context.

Besides technical expertise, there are other skills needed for response teams to be successful, such as investigative and analytical ability. Any incidents occurring need to be investigated and analyzed thoroughly to understand why they occurred, who or what system was impacted, and which team members are needed.

After the incident, actions need to be analyzed through incident retrospectives, also known as postmortems, and other tools to understand how to improve moving forward. Alongside investigative skills, understanding and analyzing necessary computer forensics evidence is incredibly important too. 

Another key element is communication skills.  During and after a response, there are many key players that need to understand progress and steps being taken. Being able to determine what information to share and effectively communicate to internal leadership, stakeholders, and customers is imperative. 

What are the typical processes for an incident response team?

Daily tasks will vary depending on whether there is an active incident or not. Along with security tools, incident response teams are there to monitor and detect security breaches. 

They’ll need to look at anomalies across different areas such as traffic, account access, excessive usage of resources, and any suspicious requests that might come through. If there is any deviation from standard patterns, incident response teams can raise the alarm to bring in other team members as needed. 

When threats are detected, a centralized approach helps keep everything streamlined. Teams will create incident timelines and begin investigating the anomalies they’ve detected. Teams can set up automation to create preliminary responses to anomalies until the incident response team can solve the issue. 

After the incident occurs, the team will have post-incident measures. This will include isolating issues and problems faced with the incident response plan and tracking metrics that are relevant. Some of the metrics that your team can use to measure themselves after an incident occurs are: 

  • Mean time to detect (MTTD): This measures how long it takes to detect and whether it’s internal identification (i.e., a team member flagging an issue) or external identification such as users and administrators. 
  • Detection accuracy/false-positive rates:  This rate shows teams what percentage of alerts are valid threats versus false alarms. Too many false alarms can lead to efficiency issues and distract teams from real incidents, so it’s important to keep this rate down.
  • Mean Time to Respond/Repair (MTTR): Once an incident is identified, how long does it take to respond and repair the issue? This metric is used to understand the impact of the incident and how long it takes to come up with a solution and implement it. It provides insight into how well the response is going and can help with finding opportunities for improvements and automation that could help. 

SRE teams play an integral role in both incident management and incident response. SREs are responsible for designing and activating response protocols when a threat is detected to handle the situation. SREs can also implement automation and run retrospectives (postmortems) after the incident is dealt with to understand how to improve moving forward.

How can Blameless help? 

A robust incident response protocol needs strong tools to implement the plan developed. Using the right tools helps provide additional insight and data required to manage incident response effectively. 

Blameless helps teams streamline incident management, ranging from incident detection, role assignments, runbook checklists, retrospectives, reliability insights, and SLO management.

To learn more about how Blameless can benefit incident response teams, schedule a demo today or subscribe to our newsletter below.